Friday, 20 March 2009

Journey to Scratterville

This morning we had an appointment with a midwife in Scratterville. At least that was the name I gave the area as we drove into it, with the doors of the car tightly locked, under firm instructions from Mrs H to avoid making eye contact with any of the track-suited low-lifes loping along by the side of the road.

Incidentally, when I was last at an elegant Northumberland dinner party and started banging on about “scratters”, everyone looked baffled and asked what on earth I was referring to. I began to wonder whether it was a word I had invented, which frankly would have been enough of a lifetime achievement to permit me to die happy, but sadly not. I cannot do better than refer you to the online Urban Dictionary, which contains the following definition: “Miserable ignorant tracksuit wearing trash exemplifying the shit-encrusted population of the British Isles. Abusive dole-scum. The reason today's elderly would rather starve away in their own homes than take a 50-yard trip down to the shops. See also scally and scut-dog.” While as an example of correct usage, I do not think I can better their “Look at those scratters, they should be shot at birth.”

There are a surprising number of scratters in the “International Heritage City” of Chester, though some local residents claim that they are all refugees from the global capital of scratterdom on Merseyside, forced out by their sense of inferiority because they feared that they could never attain the matchless depths of awfulness expected of them there. Still, seeing them spitting vigorously as they shuffle along the pavements, the mind boggles at what levels the competition in the erstwhile European Capital of Culture must attain.

The midwife operates from a Children’s Centre attached to a primary school. It’s the sort of place where you have to ring a bell to gain admission, feel an overpowering urge to look over your shoulder until the door opens, then wish to God you could slam it shut behind you. I am asked to fill in an apparently innocuous form and handed an explanatory note, which I only get around to reading later in the day. This explains that it is all intended to prevent a repetition of the Victoria Climbié tragedy (although, bizarrely, they have printed the acute accent over the ‘I’ rather than the ‘e’) and assures me that my “information will be kept safe, secure and accurate. Access will be strictly limited to those who need it to do their job.” Or, they forget to add, any fraudster or nosy parker on the planet, after the authorities have duplicated and lost it, as they invariably do.

Knackers. Through simple lack of attention to detail I have inadvertently added myself to the ContactPoint child protection database, one of the many manifestations of the data- and control-obsessed State that I was determined to resist. Perhaps they locate their facilities in Scratterville deliberately so that People Like Us will take their eye off the ball as a result of being scared out of our wits. The midwife, it must be said, is perfectly nice if perhaps rather more amply cushioned than one might expect of an employee of the “health” service, and inclined to address my wife as “sweetheart” and “honeybunch” rather more often than one might consider strictly necessary.

I only once visited a Communist country: the People’s Republic of China on a day trip from Macao in 1983. I was much struck by the frequency of the road blocks in this border region, as severe-looking members of the People’s Liberation Army scanned the papers of any peasants who looked like they might be about to make a break for the dubious delights of Portuguese colonial rule. Now a Briton can write without irony, as Mr Adrian D Evans did from Shanxi Province to the Daily Telegraph on Wednesday, “I now live in China where I can travel freely, entering and leaving the country without having to lodge my plans with the authorities. China is liberalising while Britain is becoming more draconian. How can I honestly stand up in front of my Chinese students and extol the virtues of a liberal democracy when my own country is sliding towards a police state?”

I wonder whether they have scratters in China? That might be a bit of a clincher so far as I am concerned, when considering where Mrs H, Baby Charlie and I might settle in the long term. In the admittedly unlikely event that we were granted an exit visa rather than being dispatched for an extremely long session in a re-education camp. Of which today’s horrible journey into Scratterville was surely but the mildest of foretastes.

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